In April 2006, I headed west on a Toronto-bound VIA train from Ottawa, to spend a few days with my dad’s side of the family, some of whom were still in the Collingwood area at the time, and others were in the Alliston area. On April 12th, I was in Barrie for most the day, a rather grey and (in the afternoon) rainy day, and grabbed an intercity bus to Collingwood late that afternoon. While in Barrie, I trekked toward the studios and transmitter site of Barrie’s first television station, CKVR (ch. 3), and with my camera out, aimed at the station’s studio building and 1000-foot tower atop Little’s Hill in Barrie’s south end, I got a bit of a surprise while standing at the corner of Essa & Beacon Roads. First, some history:
CKVR signed on in September 1955 as a CBC Television affiliate, owned by Ralph Snelgrove (the “R” in the callsign; the “V” was for his wife Val), whose properties also included radio station CKBB. After a failed attempt to move the channel 3 transmitter to a site near Palgrave, way up on the Oak Ridges Moraine, halfway between Barrie and Toronto, the Waters family, owners of CHUM Radio, acquired CKVR in the late ’60s, and the station remained a CHUM Limited property until about a year after my visit to Barrie. CKVR continued in analog mode until August 31, 2011 (last day of the fiscal year), when the six-bay RCA superturnstile antenna was removed from the top of the tower, and replaced by a brand new antenna for the CKVR-DT signal, then on RF channel 10/PSIP channel 3.1. The station “flash-cut” to digital, rather than having both analog and digital signals on at the same time.
The tower here is the station’s newest, built in the late 1970s, following a fatal 1977 plane crash that took down CKVR’s main *and* backup towers, and forcing channel 3 (and CHAY-FM 93.1, a tenant on the CKVR tower since May of that year) off the air for nearly two weeks, while temporary transmission facilities were put together. In ’06, CKVR’s transmit antenna topped the tower, with a shared FM antenna below it, and just under the FM was a little panel antenna for CBLT-1 (ch. 16), a rebroadcaster of Toronto CBC flagship CBLT (ch. 5); the rebroadcaster signed on in the mid ’90s to continue OTA CBC coverage in the Barrie area, upon CKVR dropping its CBC affiliation and going independent as “The New VR”. That set of white UHF panels near the bottom of the photo also belonged to the CBC, for a French-language rebroadcaster on channel 55, part of the “Radio-Canada Ontario-Outaouais” group, based at Ottawa’s CBOFT (ch. 9).
While snapping photos outside the CKVR facilities, one of their news reporters, on his way back from an assignment, stopped for a quick chat, and offered to have one of the technicians meet me and show me around the plant, including the channel 3 transmitter itself, as well as those of two of the four FM stations that now originate from the CKVR tower. Central Ontario Broadcasting’s CFJB-FM 95.7 and CKMB-FM 107.5 were, in 2006, powered by these Harris Z-series transmitters, while Corus Radio’s CHAY-FM and CIQB-FM 101.1 also originated from the ‘VR site, sharing a master antenna, installed in 2005, near the top of the tower, roughly where CHAY’s big antenna used to be. CKVR’s last analog transmitter was a solid-state Larcan unit, probably generating about 20,000 watts for channel 3’s licensed radiated power of 100,000 watts for the video portion and 10,000 for the audio.
Until late spring 2005, all CKVR programming went through a local master control room at the 33 Beacon Road studios. That all changed when CHUM built a brand new master control “hub” at 299 Queen Street West in Toronto, then the home of Citytv and MuchMusic, to control CHUM’s five “The New” OTA stations (CKVR itself, CFPL London, CKNX Wingham, CHWI Wheatley/Windsor, and CHRO Pembroke/Ottawa) and possibly other channels as well, such as CP24 and Bravo. Today, CKVR is part of the “CTV2” chain, and the Barrie studio continues to originate local newscasts, still primarily covering Simcoe County, as well as York Region, Dufferin County and the Muskoka District, from a combined newsroom/studio on the upper level of an addition that opened in spring 1990. Below is a complete recording of the first edition of CKVR’s 5:30pm “Total News” from the then-new newsroom, aired Monday, May 14th, 1990.
Given recent changes in Canada’s TV broadcasting landscape, some would say that CKVR’s days as an OTA station are numbered, but even if ‘VR were to go subscription-only (i.e. cable/satellite/IPTV), the tall tower would very likely remain standing, given the numerous non-broadcast tenants and the fact that it’s a prime chunk of “vertical real estate” in the Barrie area.